La Liga preview; Barcelona, Mourinho and debt

The predictability is Barcelona’s dominance and Real’s desperate clinging on to their coat tails. Though it should be pointed out that the fact Real have managed to stay within hair pulling distance of their Catalan rivals in recent years is nothing short of remarkable.

The win over Manchester United at Wembley last May confirmed Barca’s status as the world’s best team, but to be the second best is still an impressive feat for Mourinho’s men, though the Portuguese may not see it that way. Particularly after the Super Cup defeat this week, when Real managed to stay with their opponents until the last minute of the match on Wednesday night, when Leo Messi emphatically volleyed Barcelona’s winning goal.

For Mourinho, it must feel like groundhog day. He sends his teams out yet they are still outplayed, outpassed and most crucially, out scored by their opponents. And then they go and buy Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas. So routine has become Real’s near failure to overhaul their rivals, that Mourinho is close to finding himself a new nickname. The Petulant One. But he has achieved one remarkable feat, and that is to be Real’s longest serving manager in years, as well as not being under any threat of losing his job, something most of his predecessors have had to deal with usually just weeks into the post.

Stability is what Real need to have a chance, for that is what Barcelona are built on. Their play is based on the stability of their squad. Fabregas, Messi and Gerard Pique have played together in the same team since the age of 13 (though Fabregas and Pique have enjoyed spells abroad in between). Xavi and Andres Iniesta have been there from an even younger age, as have Pedro, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes and the latest in the production line of mini-Xavis, Thiago Alacantara. Alacantara has been phenomenal in pre-season, and will have Madridistas fearing another decade of inferiority in the face of their rivals.

Madrid can’t be ruled out, but it would take a brave man to predict them to win La Liga this season. Oh, and there is a league below the pair. Valencia came third last year and will hope to keep their place as the ‘best of the rest.’ They have yet to make any significant signings though and the threat looms that Juan Mata could leave, whilst they have missed out on other signings such as Kevin Gameiro, though the addition of Adil Rami from Lille will strengthen the defence.

Villarreal will be hot on their tails this season, and have managed to keep Guiseppe Rossi among their ranks for now. The Italian was in blistering form last year, though if the club miss out on the Champions League having lost the first leg of their play off with Odense they may struggle to retain him. Christian Zapata has also arrived from Udinese to solidify the backline, whilst Javier Camunas will be a useful addition from Osasuna.

Atletico Madrid’s hopes of returning to Europe’s top table was damaged by the departure of their two best players to Manchester; David de Gea and Sergio Aguero, whilst Diego Forlan is looking likely to leave for Inter Milan. Sergio Asenjo is a good replacement in goal, but huge pressure will be on the talented young forwards they have left up front, Brazilian Diego Costa and Spanish starlet Adrian.

Sevilla could be knocking on the door under new coach Marcelino, who have strengthened their defence with Emir Spahic and Martin Caceres. The pace and creativity of Jesus Navas allied with the goal threat of the evergreen Fredi Kanoute and Alvaro Negredo will give them confidence.

Malaga are another hoping for a good campaign having continued to spend Sheikh Al Thani’s money, but they have bought haphazardly. Jeremy Toulalan is a great signing, but Ruud van Nistelrooy is past his best whilst Joaquin is uncertain to regain the blistering form of his youth. A better signing is Argentine Diego Buonanotte, who could provide the creativity for Salomón Rondon and Julio Baptista to score goals.

Elsewhere, the scrap will merely be for survival. It is a time of great financial instability in Spain. Real Mallorca, Racing Santander, Real Zaragoza and the three newly promoted sides, Real Betis, Rayo Vallecano and Granada, are all in administration. Other sides have huge debts as they battle to remain in La Liga. The story will be of those who follow Deportivo through the trap door into the Segunda Liga at the end of the season. Without parachute payments, Spain’s top flight is the haven from a financial black hole that most fear. It is likely to be another year of high drama, but probably just at the bottom end of the table.